Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Master wordsmith William Faulkner did this to admirable effect in his early novel Flags in the Dust (also published in a slightly abridged version under the title Sartoris). For example, in describing a faded Southern society belle, Faulkner employs two powerful similes. He writes that the woman’s “flesh draped loosely from her cheek-bones like rich, slightly soiled velvet; her eyes were like the eyes of an old turkey, mucous and predatory and unwinking.” His choice of similes not only presents a vibrate image for the reader’s mind’s eye, but he also makes his descriptions do double duty by using them to give us a sense of the woman herself.
If you’ll permit me a simile of my own: Similes are like Egyptian chocolate. Their rich, deep sweetness lingers in our memories. Well-placed they work marvels. But be wary of overusing them. Packing your every description with a simile, or a metaphor, only overwhelms the general effect. Throw out all but the most powerful comparisons. Polish those that remain and watch them light up your writing.